State v. Hassberger, s. 48444 and 48445

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation350 So.2d 1
Docket NumberNos. 48444 and 48445,s. 48444 and 48445
PartiesSTATE of Florida, Petitioner, v. Toby Allen HASSBERGER, Respondent. STATE of Florida, Petitioner, v. Donald Bruce GRIMES, Respondent.
Decision Date26 May 1977

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350 So.2d 1
STATE of Florida, Petitioner,
Toby Allen HASSBERGER, Respondent.
STATE of Florida, Petitioner,
Donald Bruce GRIMES, Respondent.
Nos. 48444 and 48445.
Supreme Court of Florida.
May 26, 1977.
Rehearing Denied Sept. 7, 1977.

Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., and Paul H. Zacks, Asst. Atty. Gen., for petitioner.

Robert S. Sigman, Law Offices of Sigman & Speigel, Orlando, for Toby Allen Hassberger.

Charles R. Stepter, Jr., Fishback, Davis, Dominick & Simonet, Orlando, for Donald Bruce Grimes, respondent.

BOYD, Justice.

Toby Allen Hassberger and Donald Bruce Grimes were arrested by members of the Orlando Police Department after they were observed delivering cannabis to a confidential informant. After charges were entered against both Hassberger and Grimes defense counsel moved for disclosure of the informant's identity. The motion was granted. On the State's ex parte motion for a protective order, and without notice to the codefendants, the court held an in camera hearing at which the State presented evidence of danger to the safety of the informant should his real identity be disclosed. At the conclusion of the hearing the court entered a protective order which relieved the State from the requirement that it furnish the defense with the true name and address of the informant but which required the informant to be present at trial and available for depositions.

At trial, the State called the informant as a witness and the defense cross-examined him to the extent possible without knowing his real name or address which by reason of

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the court order were protected from disclosure to the defense. Both defendants were found guilty and appealed separately to the District Court of Appeal, Fourth District. The court first reversed Hassberger's conviction because of denial of his sixth amendment right to cross-examination by failure of the lower court to require disclosure of the informant-witness' true name and address. 1 On the authority of Hassberger, Grimes' conviction was reversed 2 and on rehearing in Grimes the following question was certified to be one of great public interest:


The State requests this Court to accept jurisdiction of the Grimes decision through the certified question and of the Hassberger decision because of conflict with other decisions of Florida appellate courts. We accept jurisdiction of the certified question in Grimes. 3 There is no conflict between the Hassberger decision and other decisions of Florida appellate courts, and, therefore, the petition in Hassberger should be discharged.

The prosecution's limited privilege to withhold the identity of a confidential informer is well established under Florida law. Treverrow v. State, 194 So.2d 250 (Fla.1967); Harrington v. State, 110 So.2d 495 (Fla. 1st DCA 1959); Spataro v. State, 179 So.2d 873 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965). Even where the informer never testifies at a trial or hearing, but simply provides the police with information which is helpful in their investigation of crime, there are due process limitations on the extent of the privilege. Where disclosure of an informer's identity is relevant and helpful to the defense of an accused, or is essential to a fair determination of the cause, the privilege must give way. State v. Matney, 236 So.2d 166 (Fla. 1st DCA 1970); Rovario v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 60-61, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957). The United States Supreme Court has adopted a rule of fairness as regards the necessity of disclosure, which is as follows:

We believe that no fixed rule with respect to disclosure is justifiable. The problem is one that calls for balancing the public interest in protecting the flow of information against the individual's right to prepare his defense. Whether a proper balance renders nondisclosure erroneous must depend on the particular circumstances of each case, taking into consideration the crime charged, the possible defenses, the possible significance of the informer's testimony, and other relevant factors.

Rovario v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 62, 77 S.Ct. 623, 629, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957).

Where the state produces the informer at trial, and attempts to prevent the witness from giving certain testimony on cross-examination, the sixth amendment right of an accused to confront the witnesses against him, made obligatory on the states by the fourteenth amendment, 4 places severe restrictions on the privilege of nondisclosure. Smith v. Illinois, 390 U.S. 129, 88 S.Ct. 748, 19 L.Ed.2d 156 (1968); Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 51 S.Ct. 77, 75 L.Ed. 736 (1931).

In the case under review, the trial court attempted to balance a concern for the safety of a State confidential informant turned witness against the right of a defendant to meaningfully confront witnesses against him. However earnest the effort, we believe that under the facts of this case, the defendant was denied his right to effectively

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confront the witnesses against him, in violation of the principles of law announced in Smith and Alford, supra.

In Smith v. Illinois, supra, the principal witness against the accused identified himself on direct examination as "James Jordan." He testified that the accused purchased a bag of heroin from him in a certain restaurant, but was the only witness, aside from the accused, who could testify as to the crucial events inside the restaurant. On cross-examination, the witness admitted that James Jordan was not his real name, but the trial court sustained the State's objection when the witness was asked to give his correct name and address. The United States Supreme Court held that the accused had been denied a right guaranteed him under the sixth and fourteenth amendments, stating:

(W)hen the credibility of a witness is in issue, the very starting point in "exposing falsehood and bringing out the truth" through cross-examination must necessarily be to ask the witness who he is and where he lives. The witness' name and address open countless avenues of in-court examination and out-of-court investigation. To forbid this most rudimentary inquiry at the threshold is effectively to emasculate the right of cross-examination itself.

390 U.S. at 131, 88 S.Ct. at 750.

Alford v. United States, supra, similarly reversed a federal conviction which abridged the same right. An important prosecution witness gave damaging testimony with respect to various transactions of the accused, including conversations with the witness when others were not present, and statements of the accused to salesmen under his direction, whom the witness did not identify. On cross-examination, questions seeking to elicit the residence address of the witness were excluded. In reversing, the Court stated:

It is the essence of a fair trial that...

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34 cases
  • Alvarado v. Superior Court, S059827.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 17 Agosto 2000
    ...38, 44-45]; People ex rel. Dunbar v. District Ct. Of Seventh J.D. (1972) 177 Colo. 429 [494 P.2d 841, 843]; State v. Hassberger (Fla.1977) 350 So.2d 1, 5; Timberlake v. State (1980) 246 Ga. 488 [271 S.E.2d 792, 800-801]; People v. Manzella (1973) 56 Ill.2d 187 [306 N.E.2d 16, 19-20], disapp......
  • State v. Zamora, 86-3079
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 6 Diciembre 1988
    ...settled in Florida that the state "has a limited privilege to withhold the identity of a confidential informer...." State v. Hassberger, 350 So.2d 1, 2 (Fla.1977); see Treverrow v. State, 194 So.2d 250, 252 (Fla.1967); Spataro v. State, 179 So.2d 873, 878 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965); State v. Hardy,......
  • People v. Thurman, 88SA251
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 5 Marzo 1990
    ...with a factual basis for the witness's apprehension, id., such as evidence of an actual threat to the witness. See State v. Hassberger, 350 So.2d 1, 5 (Fla.1977). At minimum, however, "the danger claimed by the witness must in some way relate to the particular defendant. There must be a nex......
  • State v. Simmons, 3D05-1437.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 6 Diciembre 2006
    ...Florida law which grants the State a limited privilege to withhold the identity of its confidential informants. See State v. Hassberger, 350 So.2d 1, 2 (Fla.1977); State v. Diaz, 678 So.2d 1341, 1344 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996); State v. Zamora, 534 So.2d 864, 867 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988). This privilege,......
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